544th Engineer Boat & Shore Regiment

Ray Kirkhoff's History of the 544th EB & SR

29 October1942 reported to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis, Indiana, (Ft. Harrison was decommissioned about 1997-1998). It is now an Indiana State Park) where I waited 11 days for size 13 shoes. Was sent to Camp Crowder, Mo., Signal Corps, for 6 weeks basic training, then on to Tyler, Tx. for Radio School, International Morse code. Left there, March '43 for Hyannis, Mass.  Was assigned to Co. C, 544th. There we were introduced to the finer points of LCMs & LCVPs.  Shortly after arriving I noticed an SCR-399, at Regtl Hdqtrs., which was a 450-Watt "radio-shack" on the back of a 6x6 GMC truck along with a power unit, on a trailer, pulled behind the truck.  A radio that size could not be carried on your back, for which the SCR-284 was noted, which suited me just fine.  Shortly thereafter, having gone to school with a couple guys at Hdqtrs, a transfer was arranged to Regtl. Hdqtrs. for, obviously, selfish reasons.  Much to my pleasure, I was assigned to that SCR-399.

The fall of '43 we left the beautiful trees of Mass. for the beautiful beaches of upper Florida, South of Tallahassee, in the area of Carrabelle, Camp Gordon Johnston. The spring of '44, after considerably more boat training, we left, by train of course, for Camp Stoneman, Pittsburg, Calif., a "suburb" of San Francisco.  In 6 days we boarded a ferry for the short trip to a big ship, SS Fairland.  Under the Golden Gate Bridge we steamed for parts unknown.  Went through a bout of seasickness which many men experienced.

Someplace out there in the vast Pacific our engines quit.  In a few hours they were runnin' again.   Jack Vernon, (534th EB&SR) in reading your article, it appears we were on the same ship.  Our 1st. stop was Milne Bay, New Guinea where we dropped off some troops, none from our Unit.  We headed north to Buna/Oro bay, New Guinea about half way up to Finschaven-Lae, N.G. area.

We had our "washateria" next to the bush where I was doing some laundry.  Out of the bush stepped a native. He heard coins in my pocket. He tapped my leg with his bolo knife.  I gave him a couple coins. He tapped my leg again. Needless to say I gave him the rest of the coins.  After that episode, we moved our "washateria" next to our tents.  Our cooks had some trouble mastering the gas stoves. We lost 1 mess tent to fire. The Mess Officer, Lt. Don Fairbanks, remembers it being on Bougainville just prior to leaving for Luzon.  No injuries, however, just embarrassment.

August '44 we headed north again, with a large flotilla of boats & equipment, for Wakde Is. (Map). If I recall correctly, Wake Island was just off the coast, on which an airfield was built from which bombing runs were made. A number of B-24's I've seen come in, shot up, in some cases making belly landings.

One of the men in our Unit was noticed in the water with full field pack, helmet, etc.  When asked where he was going, he said he was going to swim out to the ships and was going home.  He did go home.
From there we made a landing on Morotai Is., Sept. '44, where another airfield was built.  Beautiful white coral.  Someplace out there, there is a number of cases of beer buried in the sand where a group of us land lubbers, never thinking about the tide, tried to cool 'em. Needless to say, we never did find the beer.

Under the influence of some "jungle juice", a M/Sgt. picked-up a 30-calibar machine-gun.  On a dare he fired it thru the top of the tent.  He was busted to Pvt. and transferred.

Late Fall of '44 we went back to the Admiralty Island where a large convoy was formed for the landing at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon Is., Philippine Islands, 9 Jan. '45.  En-route to Lingayen Gulf, I seem to recall a baby-carrier falling back accompanied by a destroyer.  We learned later, the carrier was scuttled.  After landing, we headed south towards Manila finally setting up camp on Passig Blvd right next to an old thick-walled fort just down the road from the not too damaged Admiralty hotel where Gen. MacArthur eventually made his headquarters.

There were numerous Jap ships sitting on the bottom of Manila Bay with just their superstructures sticking out of the water. On one ship, as we cruised by on our "Yacht", we noticed an individual hanging 180ยบ the other direction.  We learned later there were live Japanese living on those partially sunken ships.   How many old timers remember all the flies we had competing for our fancy "cuisine", inflicting most troops with a good dose of the GI's?  A big fly-over by many C-47's, loaded with DDT, took care of that real quick.  Can't use that good stuff anymore.  Just prior to the BIG BOMB being set off, we were packing, getting ready to head back north toward Lingayen Gulf, for the assault on the Japanese home islands. After the 1st. BIG BOMB was detonated, a Chemical Officer in our unit said it's all over but the shoutin'.  We are going home.  And he was right.

Sept. '45 we landed in Japan settling in at Wakayama, in the Kobe, Osaka area. The fire bombs, from the air, did the job of razing every dwelling, most of which were constructed of wood. The only thing standing were buildings made of brick or stone with a Red Cross or Hospital painted on the roof. In all fairness, we were treated well while there.

The method of returning to the States & discharge was a point system. 1 pt. per yr. of age, 1 pt. if married, 1 pt. for each yr. in service, 1 pt. per child.  I'm not really positive that is correct but no one has questioned it yet. 5 Dec. '45 I and a few others left our Unit and boarded a ship.  Left Japan the 9th of Dec.  We arrived in New York harbor 4 weeks to the day thru the Panama Canal. (Commercials were now being sung as opposed to talking). There was no room on the West Coast nor were there anymore trains to haul us east. We did not drop anchor at the Panama Canal.  Picked up our Pilot and on thru we went.  Good service. Then on thru to Fort Dix, NJ, and on to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, where I was discharged 9 January '46.

Ray Kirkhoff


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